Next time you dream about a robot who can clean the house, do your taxes, wipe your behind, and cook dinner, think about Hal and think again. The world hadn’t seen a character like Hal since Dr. Frankenstein‘s monster murdered innocent children in Switzerland.
Hal is a robot, created in a lab. He is intelligent and can make conversation. He can also make ridiculously difficult mathematical computations and run all systems needed to successfully transport a spacecraft hundreds of millions of miles. Hal has been created by humans and, although not human, is the most psychologically complex character in the novel (yes, a robot being the most human character is irony).
Hal develops emotions, indicating artificial intelligence. He malfunctions as a result of being forced to lie. He knows the true purpose of the mission, yet Bowman and Frank do not. His ensuing feelings of guilt cause him to cover his secret by first causing the AE-35 unit, the radar responsible for communicating with Earth, to malfunction. As Frank goes to fix it the second time, he rams Frank with the space pod. He then kills the three sleeping astronauts, who know the true purpose of the mission.
Characters That Aren’t Deranged Robots
There aren’t many characters, which means they should be easy to remember.
- Moon Watcher – the most advanced of the prehistoric ape-men. His ability to walk upright and not get eaten by leopards makes him a favorite among the ladies (who by the way aren’t exactly lookers themselves). Moon Watcher, through luck and radio transmissions sent from a mysterious black monolith, saves the human race from extinction by learning how to kill and eat pig.
- Dr. Heywood Floyd – Floyd is sent to the moon to investigate the presence of a black monolith in part 2 of the novel.
- Frank Poole – the other astronaut who is awake for the entire journey to Saturn. Frank is the man in charge of extra vehicular duty, meaning that when something outside the ship needs repair, Frank is the one who has to go (by the way, if you’re ever assigned to go on a mission to Saturn, try to get out of being the man in charge of extra vehicular duty). While attempting to repair the AE-35 unit, Hal rams Frank with the space pod. Even in space, getting rammed with a space pod is deadly.
- David Bowman – Frank’s partner. After Frank and the three sleeping crew members are murdered, David is faced with solitude and a psychotic computer. He disengages Hal’s ability to murder and after discovering the true nature of his mission focuses on its success. Bowman crosses through the stargate on Japetus, is transformed into an immortal bodiless being, goes back to Earth, and saves it from a nuclear holocaust. Now that’s the right stuff!
- Public Domain Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
- Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Penguin Books. New York. 1999.
This post is part of the series: 2001: A Space Odyssey Study Guide
- Themes in 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
- 2001: A Space Odyssey Characters
- 2001: A Space Odyssey Explained